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Grieving mothers blame baby slings for infant deaths

By Eliott C. McLaughlin, CNN
Lisa Cochran, left, and fiancÚ, Jerrid Fowler, pose with newborn Derrik in May 2009.
Lisa Cochran, left, and fiancÚ, Jerrid Fowler, pose with newborn Derrik in May 2009.
  • Two mothers blame Infantino "SlingRider" for their infants' deaths in 2009
  • Infantino issued a recall Wednesday of two baby slings, offering replacement slings
  • Recall includes more than 1 million slings sold in U.S., Canada, Europe
  • U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission says it identified 14 deaths with sling-style carriers

(CNN) -- It wasn't a long walk to Lisa Cochran's car in the Costco parking lot, but by the time she got there her infant son was near death.

Cochran and her grandmother had just enjoyed a hot dog at the Salem, Oregon, wholesale outlet.

She had 7-day-old Derrik out of his baby carrier as she ate and people at nearby tables asked about the infant's age and expressed amazement that Cochran was already out and about after the pregnancy.

She put Derrik back in his Infantino "SlingRider" and headed out to the parking lot, but something was amiss when she reached the car, she said.

"He was not the right color. He was yellow. He had purple spots from where the sling rubbed marks on his face," said Cochran, 27.

Cochran called 911. Her fiancé, Jerrid Fowler, administered CPR. An ambulance arrived and paramedics also tried to revive the infant.

"By the time I got to the hospital, they told me they weren't able to save him," she said.

Video: Baby sling blamed in death
Video: One million baby slings recalled

Cochran filed a lawsuit in January, asking for millions of dollars in damages and alleging that Infantino was negligent and liable for her son's May 7, 2009, death.

The death certificate cited compression asphyxia/suffocation as Derrik's cause of death, Cochran said.

Infantino issued a recall Wednesday of two baby slings, the "SlingRider" and the "Wendy Bellissimo," offering customers replacement slings.

The San Diego, California-based company said consumers should stop using the recalled slings immediately but did not take responsibility for any deaths.

"Our company is comprised of moms, dads, sisters, aunts, uncles and grandparents and we care deeply about the quality and safety of our products," President Jack Vresics said in a statement. "All of our products go through rigorous testing and we work closely with governmental agencies as well as other third-party testing organizations continually to ensure the safety of our products."

Earlier this month, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission issued a warning about the use of certain baby slings, saying it had identified 14 deaths with sling-style carriers, most of them in children younger than 4 months. On Tuesday, Health Canada issued a joint statement with the agency, saying three of the deaths appeared to occur in one of Infantino's slings.

About 1 million of the slings were recalled in the United States, and about 15,000 were affected in Canada, according to the joint release. Around 14,000 of the slings have been recalled in Europe.

"In the first few months of life, babies cannot control their heads because of weak neck muscles. The sling's fabric can press against an infant's nose and mouth, blocking the baby's breathing and rapidly suffocating a baby within a minute or two," the joint statement said. "Additionally, where a sling keeps the infant in a curled position bending the chin toward the chest, the airways can be restricted, limiting the oxygen supply. The baby will not be able to cry for help and can slowly suffocate."

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission issued a warning this month about the use of certain baby slings.
The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission issued a warning this month about the use of certain baby slings.

Attorneys for Infantino referred requests for comment to a public relations firm that answered questions and sent CNN the statement from the company's president. The company is working with CPSC in its investigation, has alerted retailers and written letters to individual customers, spokeswoman Amy Colton said in an e-mail.

The company has not filed any pleadings in the case except for a notice to remove the case from the Marion County Circuit Court in Oregon to the state's U.S. District Court.

Cochran isn't the only mother blaming Infantino's "SlingRider" for an infant's death. Anthoinette Medley is planning to sue Infantino for the February 20, 2009, death of 3-month-old Nelsir, said her lawyer, Alan Feldman.

Watch Medley discuss losing Nelsir

His twin, Timir, was in an identical sling over Medley's other shoulder as she walked through the Gallery at Market East in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. She saw an old friend who hadn't seen her children yet, Feldman said, and Medley was eager to show them off.

"That's when she discovered a tiny bit of blood on the baby's bib and ran to the bathroom," Feldman said.

Nelsir was taken to Thomas Jefferson University Hospital and pronounced dead later, Feldman said.

"I will never get to hear him call me Mommy. I will never get to see him take a first step," Anthoinette Medley told CNN affiliate WPVI.

Feldman said he is not satisfied with Infantino's recall.

"If you recognize that your product is not safe, and you realize that babies have died, you should stop babies and moms from using the product," he said.

Infantino's president said the company's announcement of a free replacement program reflects its commitment to safety as its highest priority.

"As a company, Infantino conducts extensive safety testing internally as well as with third-party experts, regardless of whether official safety standards have been established. We will continue to play a leadership role in the industry and to cooperate closely with CPSC as it continues its investigation of all baby slings," Vresics said.

It was just hard to even be in a situation like this because the first thing everyone asks is, 'How's the baby?'
--Lisa Cochran, whose child died in baby sling

Cochran said the sling came highly recommended, especially for breast-feeding mothers. A neighbor had one, she said, as did a friend's cousin. She even carried Derrik to his first doctor's visit in the sling.

"There were a lot of people who had this sling, and it seemed like a great thing," she said.

Cochran said she broke down after Derrik's death. Simple chores became extremely taxing. She neglected going to the grocery store and bank. She had trouble getting out of bed, showering, even talking on the phone.

"I was kind of hysterical. I was kind of not quite with it for several months, actually. I neglected going to the grocery stores or anywhere I would commonly frequent," she said. "It was just hard to even be in a situation like this because the first thing everyone asks is, 'How's the baby?' "

Cochran, a manager for a housecleaning service in Keizer, lost Derrik's twin in the first trimester of her pregnancy, she said. She is pregnant again with a girl who is due in June.

"I'm doing a lot better, especially now that I have another one on the way," she said.

"Hopefully, there won't be any more babies that die and any more families that have to go through what me and my family have gone through."

CNN's Emanuella Grinberg contributed to this report.